Posted on January 8, 2009

Protests Over BART Shooting Turn Violent

Demian Bulwa, Charles Burress, Matthew B. Stannard,Matthai Kuruvila, San Francisco Chronicle, January 8, 2009

A protest over the fatal shooting by a BART police officer of an unarmed black man mushroomed into several hours of violence Wednesday night as demonstrators smashed storefronts and cars, set several cars ablaze and blocked streets in downtown Oakland.

The roving mob expressed fury at police and frustration over society’s racial injustice. Yet the demonstrators were often indiscriminate, frequently targeting the businesses and prized possessions of people of color.

They smashed a hair salon, a pharmacy and several restaurants. Police in riot gear tried to control the crowd, but some people retreated along 14th Street and bashed cars along the way.

The mob smashed the windows at Creative African Braids on 14th Street, and a woman walked out of the shop holding a baby in her arms.


Wednesday night’s vandalism victims had nothing to do with the shooting death by a BART police officer of Oscar Grant on New Year’s Day–but that did little to sway the mob.

“I feel like the night is going great,” said Nia Sykes, 24, of San Francisco, one of the demonstrators. “I feel like Oakland should make some noise. This is how we need to fight back. It’s for the murder of a black male.”

Sykes, who is black, had little sympathy for the owner of Creative African Braids.

“She should be glad she just lost her business and not her life,” Sykes said. She added that she did have one worry for the night: “I just hope nobody gets shot or killed.”


Earlier in the evening, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums met the mob on 14th Street, urging calm and leading them on a walk to City Hall, where he gave a speech.

“I sense your frustration,” he told the crowd. “I understand that you’ve lost confidence in a process because you’ve seen what you believe is a homicide . . . But listen to me, we are a community of people. We are civilized people. We are a nation of laws.

Dellums told protesters that he had asked the Oakland Police Department to investigate the shooting. “I have asked Oakland police to engage in a fair, parallel investigation, the way you’d investigate any homicide in Oakland,” he said. “If that leads to an arrest, that’s what it would lead to.”


But soon after, a man shouted “that’s the modern day lynching” and the mob quickly continued its rampage, smashing at least seven storefronts on 17th street between Franklin and Webster streets. They also smashed eight cars, including four belonging to the City of Oakland.

Near 14th and Alice streets, Myron Bell was taking dance lessons in “step,” a form of dance popular among African Americans, when he looked out the window and saw people jumping on his Lexus sedan.

Bell, 42, came out to find that almost all of the car’s windows, including the front and back had been smashed and it appeared that someone had tried to set the car on fire.

“I’m for the cause,” said Bell, who is black. “But I’m against the violence and destruction.”

Nearby, Godhuli Bose stood near her smashed Toyota Corolla as a man walked by, repeatedly called her a misogynist slur and then added, “F- your car.”


Earlier in the evening, when the mob first appeared downtown, Oakland Police Officer Michael Cardoza parked his car across the intersection of Eighth and Madison streets, to prevent traffic from flowing toward Broadway and into the protest. But he told The Chronicle that a group of 30 to 40 protesters quickly surrounded his car and started smashing it with bottles and rocks.

Cardoza jumped out of the car and said some protesters tried to set the car on fire, while others jumped on top of the hood–incidents repeatedly shown on television. Cardoza said the protesters “were trying to entice us into doing something.” A Chronicle reporter saw a fist-sized rock in the back seat.


Other protesters marched on BART’s 12th Street Station about 7 p.m., prompting the transit agency to close the downtown hub station even as it was reopening the Lake Merritt and Fruitvale stations.

The mob blocked the intersection of 14th and Broadway, near the downtown BART station entrance. As police put on helmets and gas masks and stood in a line formation, some demonstrators held signs that read, “Your idea of justice?” and “Jail Killer Cops.”


Some in the mob wore masks over their faces as they yelled at police. Roughly a dozen stood just a few feet away from police as they screamed at them. Chants included “pigs go home,” “the fascist police, no justice, no peace” and “we are all Oscar Grant.”

Mandingo Hayes, who is black, said he participated in the protest because “we’re tired of all these police agencies getting away with shooting unarmed black and Latino males.”


The core group of the mob appeared to be about 40 people, several of whom were with Revolution Books, a Berkeley bookstore. A man distributed the “Revolution” newspaper–whose tagline is “voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, U.S.A.”–as he shouted “This whole damn system is guilty!”

Soo Jung Sung, an Asian American, didn’t understand why she was to blame. She wept as she looked at the shattered front windshield of her Nissan Montero.


Protests over the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man by a Bay Area Rapid Transit police officer turned violent Wednesday night as demonstrators smashed windows, set fire to several cars and blocked streets.

A few hundred protesters took the streets of downtown Oakland to condemn the shooting and call for criminal charges against 27-year-old officer Johannes Mehserle.

Oakland police arrested at least 105 protesters on charges that included assault on a police officer, looting, vandalism, arson and drug possession, the Oakland Tribune reported Thursday.

Mehserle resigned from the transit agency shortly before he was supposed to be interviewed by investigators Wednesday. He has not yet explained why he fatally shot 22-year-old Oscar Grant of Hayward as he lay face-down on a BART station platform on New Year’s Day.

New Year’s Day shooting

Police said Mehserle was one of several officers responding to reports about groups of men fighting on a train.

Grant, a supermarket worker, was unarmed when he was shot in the back, according to police. The Alameda County coroner’s office said Wednesday that the bullet fired by Mehserle apparently went through him and ricocheted off the concrete platform before re-entering his body. It was the ricochet wound to the torso that caused Grant’s death, it said.


Protesters set fire to a trash container and tried to overturn a police car, smashing the front window. Police attempted to disperse the crowd and smaller groups of protesters marched to different areas.

Some protesters threw bottles, smashing a window of a fast-food restaurant and other downtown stores. At least three cars were set on fire and many other automobiles were damaged.

Many protesters expressed anger and frustration at the police and what they called society’s racial injustice.

But as the demonstrations continued, the mob frequently targeted the business, cars and homes of people without regard to race, the San Francisco Chronicle reported early Thursday.

One such shop was Creative African Braids in Oakland.


Grant’s family has filed a $25 million wrongful death claim against BART and want prosecutors to file criminal charges against Mehserle.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson told the Chronicle that transit officials had expected to hear Mehserle’s account of the shooting on Wednesday. But instead, the officer’s attorney and the president of BART’s police union appeared and gave officials a short resignation letter from the BART officer.


The Chronicle, quoting a source familiar with the investigation, also reported that BART is looking into whether Mehserle mistook his service weapon for a Taser stun gun, among many other possibilities.

Oakland police, meanwhile, were bracing for another protest on Thursday outside BART headquarters. {snip}